An Icy Adventure at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

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South's Korea's northernmost province Gangwon-do is home to the city of Hwacheon and one of winter's most exciting events: The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, or Mountain Trout Festival.
I traveled with a our group to reach Hwacheon. Arriving, we saw that the festival "grounds" weren't really on ground at all, rather the festival takes place on a long stretch of the Hwacheoncheon, "cheon" meaning "stream." Exiting the bus, we could see hundreds of people already engaging in the festivities. The most popular activities are traditional ice fishing and barehanded ice fishing. 

Ice fishers, hard at work
My friends and I decided to give ice fishing a try, and after receiving our poles we then sought out a fishing hole in the special foreigners' fishing area and settled in for some good, chilly fun. We let the line out until it touched the bottom and alternated pulling the fishing line at slow or quick speeds, as instructed. We spent more than a few minutes peering into the fishing hole to make sure that there were fish, and indeed there were. We just weren't catching any. Across the way, in the Koreans' fishing area, we could see what successful fishing looked like, as Koreans young and old (and serious!) caught their lunch.

My model for fishing success!
I worked hard, checking for fish, but my line still came up empty  :(

Following our failed attempt at ice-fishing, two of us decided to join the bare-handed fishing competition for foreigners. We suited up in some orange festival shirts and shorts before walking barefoot to the basin. At -15°C, we were feeling frozen before we even jumped in the water! 

Ooooh, it's chilly!

We were given just five minutes in the water, and believe me, you wouldn't want to stay any longer! We could catch a limit of three fish each. For my first minute, I was cold and miserable, but a little boy on the sidelines looked at me and whispered, "Fighting," a Korean expression meaning, "You can do it." I smiled and then, along with his family, they cheered for me, "Fighting!" After that, I managed to trap my three trout, making sure to show my cheerleaders each one.

How to Catch a Trout Barehanded
1) Grab the fish, 2) Wrestle it out of the water,
3) Stuff it it your shirt, and 4) Pose! You've done it!

I caught my trout just in time, and after a hot dip in the tub and a towel-off, we took my catch to the barbecues for the next step: Eating! Nothing washes down victory quite like buttered trout, soju, and beer!

Tasty trout, sun, and soju: A perfect festival day

Refreshed, warmed, and re-energized we dedicated the rest of our day to festival fun. You could choose from a myriad of activities, including ice sledding, go-karts, ATV rides, bumper cars, ice soccer, trampolines, and a snow maze. We opted for sledding and and ATV ride, and both were wild fun!

Fun on ice with an ATV

Tired but happy, my friends are I made one last dash through the snow maze before heading back to our hotel, our heads swimming with our day's icy adventures.

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival takes places annually for the month of January. Activities range from 3,000 to 15,000 won and include coupons for use at the festival. Hwacheon is accessible by bus from Seoul and Changwon, and the festival is open from 9 AM until 6 PM. Refreshments are available on site, as are fishing outfits and equipment. Its well worth the trip, and it is one of my favourite festivals to date.

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Busan, South Korea
I'm a lucky young woman who has had the wonderful opportunity to live and travel in South Korea. My time here has taken me all over the country, and my blog follows those adventures. Enjoy!
You can also find my wiritng on The Korea Blog, the official blog of the government of Korea



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